It only took a couple of cameos to get Arnold Schwarzenegger back in form and now he’s back (yes I just said that) in “The Last Stand”. You would never doubt that this is a standard Schwarzenegger picture except for the fact that the days of the one-man-army seem to be gone. But don’t misunderstand me, Arnie still pumps a ton of lead, fires the one-liners, and kicks plenty of bad guy butt. It’s just that he’s older, he knows it, and the movie takes that into account. In fact, the movie has a lot of fun with it which is just one of the reasons why it works as a whole.
First off, this is an old school action picture and that will automatically turn off some people. Some will dismiss it as retro cheese while others will dismiss it as simply mindless entertainment. I can’t argue with either of those assessments other than to say it shouldn’t be dismissed. “The Last Stand” has its share of cheesiness but intentionally so. And it’s certainly not stimulating, thought-provoking cinema but it never pretends to be. It’s a simple, straightforward movie without an ounce of pretension and it.
Schwarzenegger plays the sheriff of a small Arizona town named Sommerton which sits near the Mexican border. It’s a quiet little town and nothing happens there, that is until a local farmer (played by Harry Dean Stanton in a wonderful cameo) is found shot to death. It turns out his murder is connected to the escape of a powerful drug cartel boss in Las Vegas. The drug lord, named Cortez, is heading to the Mexican border and Sommerton is the only town that stands in his way. Needless to say, Arnie and company use the town as the last stand between Mexico and this murderous kingpin.
There’s a good supporting cast around Schwarzenegger even though no one goes to one of his films expecting Oscar caliber performances. I loved seeing Forest Whitaker in a prominent role. He plays the FBI agent who Cortez escaped from. The normally obnoxious Johnny Knoxville plays the village idiot and manages to keep his goofball schtick under control. The lovely Jaimie Alexander and Genesis Rodriguez both get moments to flex their tough girl muscles. Eduardo Noriega is a perfectly detestable villain and Peter Stormare has a blast as one of his hired hands. And then you have the always entertaining Luis Guzmán who is a a lot of fun and delivers several good laughs. None of these performances will knock your socks off, but were you really expecting them to? They go as far as the material allows them and for this kind of story that’s more than adequate.
But c’mon, this is all about the action right? Director Kim Ji-woon brings a slick and stylish eye for action sequences. But what I like best is how he keeps his camera under control. So many of today’s action movies overuse quick cuts and herky-jerky cameras which makes impossible to see what’s going on. Ji-woon uses these techniques some but they never muddle the scene. Weather it’s a massive firefight or a 150 mph car chase through a corn field, he’s always in command of his camera. Now he does go heavy with the blood and some kills aren’t for the squeamish, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to letting out a “wow” or two.
The days of Arnold walking around shirtless with bowling ball biceps and taking out full armies by himself may be over but “The Last Stand” shows he’s still the king of the action flick. Look, this movie is exactly what it sets out to be and nothing else. The plot is pretty basic and there’s not one single surprise in the entire movie. But it’s also one wild ride and the perfect vehicle for Schwarzenegger. You get plenty of bangs, plenty of bullets, and plenty of bodies. You also get some pretty good laughs along the way. I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly what I want from a Schwarzenegger movie. Mission accomplished.